Lauren Hutton might have become a celebrity on the strength of her gap-toothed smile, but for most people, having a space between the front teeth is not something to celebrate. The condition is actually called diastema, and it affects both adults and children. Gaps can develop anywhere in the mouth, but the most common—and visible—location is between the two front teeth. In children, gaps sometimes disappear with the eruption of permanent teeth. If the condition persists into your adult years, however, you might want to do something about it. Here’s where to start:
It’s important for your dentist to understand why you have a diastema in order to treat it effectively, so he (or she) might ask you for some medical history and examine your mouth. Common causes include:
teeth that are too small for the jawbone, which results in them erupting far apart;
overgrowth of the tissue between your gum line and the two upper front teeth, which causes them to separate;
bad habits such as thumb-sucking, which puts pressure on the back of the two upper front teeth;
incorrect swallowing reflexes that cause the tongue to push against the back of the upper front teeth; and
gum disease leading to tooth loss and gaps between teeth.
Depending on the cause, you might decide in consultation with your dentist to leave the gap as is. If it isn’t causing a functional problem, it becomes a cosmetic issue that isn’t vital to fix it for health reasons.
For those who choose to address the condition, orthodontic treatment is the most common therapy for diastema. Traditional metal braces have wires and brackets that apply pressure to the teeth and move them gradually closer together. Invisalign retainers or invisible braces can also fix some cases of diastema, depending on how severe the problem is.
For those patients who aren’t prepared to wear adult braces, there are cosmetic procedures to choose from instead. Bonding is common, using tooth-coloured composite to fill the gap. Veneers fit over the teeth to hide evidence of the gap, which is useful if one of the upper front teeth is cracked or chipped.
Fixed dental bridges offer the option to replace a missing tooth or fill a gap, and in extreme circumstances surgery could be the answer.
When the gum above the upper front teeth extends outwards and causes a gap, a dental surgeon can remove the excess tissue. Some patients still need to wear braces after surgery to complete the process.
Patients with gum disease need treatment to stop the infection before doing anything else to close the gap. Therapy might include scaling and root planing to get rid of the bacteria, and surgery to remove tartar from the gums.
Patients who get treatment for diastema usually have a positive outlook because of the number of procedures available for closing these gaps. Treatments for gum disease are also good over the long-term because they restore bone health and stop inflammation. Many diastemas aren’t preventable, but you can reduce the chance of developing a gap. Help children break their thumb-sucking habits, learn to swallow correctly and take daily care of their oral health. Brush and floss regularly and see your dentist twice a year for a regular examination and tooth cleaning.
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